For a conservative Christian, midday is a bit late to go for Sunday prayers, unless you are familiar with Pentecostal churches where services can run from 10am to 3.30pm.
This is reflected in the conversation the boda boda cyclist tries to start as he takes me deep into Bunga.
“There are many churches nowadays,” he says jokingly, continuing, “but I can assure you, no church can give you the kind of happiness you will get in a lodge.” I ignore his shamelessness.
He drops me off on Kasajja Road. It is eerily quiet – not what you would expect of a place with a church in the vicinity. Impatient, I call my contact to pick me up. For five minutes, I stand on this lonely road until a female voice calls out to me.
When I turn, my heart skips a beat – in surprise. My contact, Rachel Etaka, is wearing a white robe. A white veil covers her hair. And she is barefoot. In the hot sun, the contrast between the white cloth and her ebony skin is captivating.
“We do not allow people with uncovered hair into our church,” she says as she leads me into the gate of a bungalow. A light-skinned Nigerian woman, “blessed mother” Eno Archibong Akpan, welcomes me and sends the girl to get me a scarf from her room. They tie it around my hair.
We proceed to the church – the sitting room of the house – but at the door I am told to remove my shoes. This is holy ground. There is nothing much they can do about my short yellow dress, though.
Inside the church, only seven men and women are fully clad in white robes. These are the true converts of the kingdom of the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star (BCS). The rest – eight in all – are in normal attire.
“Archbishop” James Crawford Ellerbe, 79, is already into his sermon. Standing behind the altar, he is positioned himself beneath three bulbs giving off red light in between two portraits hanging on the wall. On his left are seated two “blessed mothers”.
In a deep baritone voice, the Black American explains his assignment from God. “I believe I was born to bring Africa’s people (Black Americans) back to the continent. I have been doing this assignment for 45 years. This continent is seated on a gold mine and what is needed is the technology to change it.”
Ellerbe reads from Genesis 15:13-14 where God appeared to Abram in a dream telling him that his descendants will be slaves in a distant land for 400 years.
“Slavery ended. It is time for Black Americans to return to their homeland with their money and technology,” Ellerbe says. This is the gist of his one-and-a-half hour sermon.
The congregation is passive, with an occasional “Amen.” One cannot tell how this message impacts people in a land where debilitating urban poverty and unemployment drive people to churches. Their faces are unreadable as the interpreter relays the message in Luganda. Ellerbe is also here to plant the new church. When he came, he had eight “blessed mothers” in tow. Six have since returned home.
“Some years ago, Uganda belonged to England but God has come to collect His land and set it free from Satan’s bondage. This is a beautiful and rich country. I first heard about it in the days of [president] Idi Amin. We want to pray for change in the governance of this country.”
After the sermon, Akpan leads the congregation in prayers. You would be forgiven if you thought it was a Pentecostal church, where ‘talking to God’ means shouting out your prayers, regardless of who is listening. Akpan prays in a loud voice to God. But, there is a hidden catch.
Beliefs of the Brotherhood
Akpan prays in the name of Jesus Christ but the God she is invoking is not God as we know Him. ‘God’ is Olumba Olumba Obu (OOO), a man in one of the portraits on the wall. The congregation kneels and bows their heads to him. This man-god is called the sole spiritual head of the universe and they address him as, “the ancient of days, the word of god, the giver of life and the I am.”
“Oh god, let your holy spirit come down into your children and enable them to serve you,” Akpan intones, adding that OOO never shares his glory with anyone.
Later, she leads the congregation in a slow dance around the church. They end up at the altar and bow down. Since the congregation is learning the songs, she sings alone from a 764 page hymn book, singing in a deep beautiful voice. The songs always end in an “oh..oh..oh” chant.
BCS began operating in Uganda in June 2016 and reportedly has branches in USA, England, Germany, France, China, Japan, India, Russia, Ukraine, and African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. Founded by OOO, a man with no formal education, it began operating in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria in 1958.
Ellerbe says OOO appeared to mankind as god, to, “take control of his earth and rule with dominion and power as promised in Revelations (Bible). BCS is Christ’s universal spiritual school of practical Christianity.”
According to Ellerbe, BCS believes Adam reincarnated as Jesus Christ and has now reincarnated as OOO to dwell among men as God Almighty. OOO wears red robes (Isaiah 63.1). The brotherhood, whose members are vegetarian, also has 144 virgins – men and women dedicated to OOO’s service.
Dr Charles Dramiga, a Ugandan working as a chiropractor in Texas, USA invited BCS to plant a prayer house in Uganda in the 1970s. The bungalow where the church is housed is at the centre of an ownership wrangle. Currently, two “nuns” are in charge of it.
Kabalagala Divisional Police Commander ASP Bernard Mugerwa, was unaware of BCS, telling this reporter he was going to gather intelligence. Later, he did not pick repeated calls made to his official phone number.
BSC was registered with the National NGO Board a few years ago by one Lucy Kangave.
“For 2,016 years we have been praying for God’s kingdom to come and it has come as prophesied in the book of Daniel,” Ellerbe says, adding, “OOO is the sole spiritual ruler of the universe. I have known five American presidents and none of them had the audacity to call themselves such. Only a divine being can give himself such a title. OOO is the divine being. We still worship Christ, but OOO is the new name of God.”
Conclusion of service
After praying, Akpan says she received a revelation that god was present in the spiritual realm, though he is sitting on his throne, at the headquarters in Calabar.
The congregation sings without the accompaniment of drums, guitars, or clapping. Akpan encourages us to dance in our traditional dances. She demonstrates an Ibo dance move, but smilingly cautions “Dis na calabar dance. You go do Ugandan dance.”
She advises us to read our bibles for OOO’s blessings. Later, “blessed mother” Linda Actor Ogunka also prays over the congregation intoning, “doro (door of) happiness, doro blessings, doro prosperity, doro business,” to open up in their lives.
After the benediction, Ellerbe sprinkles holy water on the congregation kneeling at the altar. They then drink from white tumblers the ‘water of life,’ which is in a white jug. They bow and tap their foreheads to the floor three times in thanks.
“When you have bad dreams, hung your white dress in your house and knock your head on the floor three times and evil will run,” Ogunka says, adding, “Juju go see you in dress, he go run.”
At 2.45pm, the congregation shares fruits (bananas, pineapple, and water melon) and we disperse. Those with prayer requests follow the “blessed mothers” to the kitchen.
Who is Olumba, the god?
‘God’ was born in 1918 in Biakpan, Cross River State, Nigeria, to “holy mother” Elizabeth Esu Olumba Obu, the “universal mother of mercy”. In 1942, he moved to Calabar to look for work. In 1958 he formed BCS.
His followers believe he is the one described in Revelations 19:11-15, with a name no one knows, saying the biblical prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, foretold him as the king of righteousness. They say he is the child in Revelations 12 who rules with an iron rod.
In 2001, when god became blind and too frail, he handed over his kingdom to ‘god the son’ (previously known as Roland). Ellerbe narrates that a few months later, god was summoned to the divisional police headquarters in Calabar. The officers wanted to know who was in-charge at BCS. It was the first time god had ridden in a car.
At first, he remained silent. But then, he told them he had handed all authority to his son, ‘his holiness’ Olumba Olumba Obu, whom he had crowned ‘king of kings and lord of lords’, who is now responsible for judging the world and its inhabitants.
“The Nigerian police refused to hand over the raw footage of the interview to BCS, which we wanted to put it in our museum,” Ellerbe says.
Although Ellerbe cannot comment on whether “god” was still alive, Nigerian press reports indicate he died in 2003 or thereabouts. BCS says, “Olumba has gone to sleep,” or, “he has ascended into heaven.” His grave site remains a mystery.